By Sanjeewa Jayaweera
It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.
The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.
We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.
This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.
Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!
At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.
One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.
It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!
ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!
The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.
When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!
I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.
I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.
I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.
Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!
I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.
Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.
We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.
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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development
There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.
The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.
To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.
Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.
It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.
All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.
Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.
If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.
In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.
However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.
It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.
The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.
It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.
A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.
Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.
Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?
Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!
To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.
Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.
The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..
How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!
If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.
And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!
Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.
Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.
With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.
I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.
Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.
He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.
Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.
He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!
I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:
“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.
“There is no science to beat common sense.”
But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!
Paranavitana on Hora Miniha, mistress to the world and sweet mangos
Dr. Senarath Paranavitana, the first Sri Lankan Commissioner of Archaeology, was one of the world’s foremost Archaeologists, who was famous for his discovery and interpretation of Sri Lankan monuments and rock edicts. About five miles to the East of the Galle town is the Metaramba Village. He was born in this village at Mabotuwanage Watta, on December 26, 1886, and was named Senarath by the Nayake Thera of the Yatagala Temple. The house where he was born does not exist now.
His mother passed away when he was just a child. He went to the village school from his married elder sister Sopaya’s house. From the village school, he joined the Buona Vista English School about two miles away. It was a difficult journey on foot, through jungle patches and paddy fields. His sister gave him one cent a day as pocket money, which he saved to buy books. After he joined the Archaeological Department, he gratefully sent a monthly payment to this sister of his, till her demise. The Buona Vista English School was founded in 1814 and boasts of other distinguished old boys like Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, the first Sri Lankan Governor-General, President Abdul Gayoom of the Maldives, the celebrated author Martin Wickremasinghe, National hero Dr. W.A. de Silva, and the patriot E.W Perera.
In his quest for knowledge in Sinhala, Pali and Sanscrit, he went to the Heenatigala Pirivena, after school, which was also two miles away. This resulted in his having to walk eight miles a day! One day he was going to the Pirivena over the ridges of the paddy fields, memorizing a sanscrit stanza, glancing at the book he was carrying, from time to time, when all of a sudden he fell into a muddy-pool. Having washed the mud, he proceeded and reached the Pirivena. Seeing him drenched, the Nayaka Thera laughed loud and asked him as to what exactly happened to him?
On leaving school, he served as a teacher in English in several schools before he joined the Archaeological Department, which he served with distinction, later to become its head as the first Sri Lankan Commissioner of Archaeology ushering in a golden age. His resounding success did not make him forget his native village of Metaramba, a rare trait when many a villager who achieve VIP status breaks ties with their kith and kin and the village.
When he was engrossed in literary work, he went to sleep around 2 or 3 a.m, getting up at 7.00 a.m., notwithstanding the sporadic attacks of Malaria and attended to his duties.
As a form of relaxation he liked to play card games like Bridge. He also loved to see Charlie Chaplin films and Russian Ballets.
Some of his monumental works were ‘Archaeological Survey of Ceylon’, ‘The Stupa in Ceylon’, ‘Epigraphia Zeilanica Graffiti’, ‘Ceylon and Malasiya and Sinhalayo’. After his retirement as the Commissioner of Archaelogy, he functioned as a professor of Archaeology at the University of Peradeniya. It is ironical that without a formal university education he came to be a professor. He was very popular with the university students who affectionately called him ‘The 20th Century Paranavitana.’ Once at an International Archaeological Conference, held in Ceylon, Dr. G.P. Malalasekera, who presided, introduced Dr. Paranavitana thus; “There is only one Dr. Senarath Paranavitana in the world. Here is he.” When Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Sri Lanka, Dr. Paranavitana accompanied them to the historic sites. In recognition of his erudite scholarship and laudable services rendered, he was conferred the honour of C.B.E. (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by the Queen.
On hearing that there was an ancient statue in semi ruinous state, at a far off village, he went to see it. But it was not there. The villagers told him that as the statue was limestone, they prepared chunam out of it, for their quids of betel. This story is laced with humour. One day a teacher told a pupil that his handwriting was illegible, adding that not even Dr. Senarath Paranavitana would be able to read it. One day he was explaining some details of a matter pertaining to archaeology in English to a French State Guest, when the guests, wife said something in French belittling Dr. Paranavitana. Then, to her utter embarrassment, Dr. Paranavitana immediately switched to French.
Nowadays when some misguided individuals are making attempts to prove that Buddha was born in Sri Lanka, Dr. Paranavitana in his day announced that he was not able to say that Buddha visited Sri Lanka, due to lack of archaeological evidence. Dr. Paranavitana was once asked who in his opinion were the greatest monarchs of Sri Lanka. He said that they were King Dutugemunu, who drove away the Dravidians, and King Wijayabahu the Great, who drove away the Chola invaders, who for 77 long years ruled at Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, adding that they both hailed from Ruhuna.
Paranavitana went shopping in Colombo one day. As he was unusually late to come back, his driver went out looking for his master, when he saw him seated in another car. “What the hell were you doing all this time?” he asked the driver, “Sir! You are seated in someone else’s car,” said the driver. “Is that so,” said Paranavitana, and walked back to his own car. One day he was on his way to Anuradhapura, passing through jungle patches, with hardly any other vehicles on the road. All of a sudden he saw some distance away, a group of monkeys seated on the middle of the road. He told the driver not to proceed further and to take the car to a side until they finished their Raja Sabha meeting!
Another day he was engaged in archaeological excavation of a possible king’s cremation site. When he came for lunch and was in the process of taking his shoes off, an excavator came running and told him that ashes have surfaced from the site. As it was a welcome sign, he ran to the site with a sock in one leg. He was of the opinion that the word ‘Dhusta’ in ‘Dhusta Gamini’ meant brave in ancient Sinhala and not cruel or wicked.
Once he was invited to deliver a lecture at the Vidyodaya University. It was largely attended. Among the attendees were a number of Vice-Chancellors of the universities. Looking around and seeing them, he said that he was happy to see such a large number of Vice-Chancellors present, to hear him. Then in lighter vein, he proceeded to analyse the Sinhala word ‘Upa Kulapathi’ which is now used for a vice-chancellor. He said that, as between a wife and her husband in a family, the husband, of course, as the head of the family is known as ‘Gedera Miniha’ or Kulapathi. The word ‘Upa Kulapathi’ therefore means ‘Hora Miniha’ (paramour or husband substitute!) The audience roared with laughter.
Another day he analysed the word ‘Kawthukagaraya’. He said that the Sinhala word ‘Katugeya’ suggests museum. He said that this word means the room occupied by a newly-wed couple in the consummation of marriage. On another occasion he said that Parakramabahu VI had a daughter named ‘Lokanathaa’ which means ‘Lokayatama Hamine’ (mistress to the whole world). Referring to the designation ‘Sahakara Lekam’ of some Government Departments, Paranavitana said that the word ‘Sahakara’ means ‘Sweet Mango’, adding drily that if that the incumbent happens to be a lady, it would make some sense.
When he was supervising some excavations in a distant part of the country, he was in the habit of motoring down to his home in Colombo every weekend. One day some of the younger officers in the excavation party thought they could ‘rag’ their beloved chief, and ringing up every police station on the way, told them that such-and-such a car-bearing such-and-such a number, was transporting cannabis to Colombo. At the first two police stations, Dr. Paranavitana’s car was stopped and searched thoroughly and when it was stopped at the third police station, the revered scholar thought it was enough, and asked the Officer-in-Charge whether he could take a telephone call to the IGP.
With great reluctance the OIC allowed him to do so, and the way Dr. Paranavitana addressed the IGP made the OIC almost shoot out of his chair. “Richard,” said Dr. Paranavitana and went on to explain what was happening adding that it was obviously some fellow’s idea of a joke. (Then IGP Sir Richard Aluwihare, was a very close friend of his.) Sir Richard apologised profusely to the Commissioner for the inconvenience and ordered the OIC to provide him with a police escort right up to Colombo.
On October 4, 1972, he passed away at the age of 72. It was reported that his library was sold for Rs. 25,000,00 to a citizen in Jaffna (Anyway, three hearty cheers! to the Public Trustee).
He was truly a great son of the soil nay a staunch son, of Ruhuna! There will never be another like him.